This blog post started out as two Facebook posts a few days ago and I decided that I want to expand on those original posts here.
I posted my 100th review last week. My book reviews started out as a blog in 2011. I never thought I would have read and posted 100 book reviews. But, I have enjoyed reviewing and surprised how much my reading life has transformed over the past six years. I believe it has helped me to become a better writer. I have a few takeaways to share from this experience:
1) Don’t get tunnel vision with only your favorite genre of reading. I was a bookseller for nearly a decade. I worked at Borders Books (remember them) and a couple of indie bookstores in my bookselling career. Readers have their preferred genre and rarely ventured outside of it unless you are a close friend or someone they can trust for book recommendations. However, I have learned over the years you can break this reading recommendation paradigm, if you are genuinely passionate about a book you have read and can describe that book in a way to get readers to take a chance outside of their reading comfort zone. I learned that skill as a bookseller and recommended The Little Country by Charles deLint to readers who would not read urban fantasy novels. As a book review blogger, I have been able to recommend The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell as the books readers would take a chance on from my enthusiastic response. What I’ve learned is most readers want to read a good book that can give them an escape from the world for a few hours, days, or weeks and it’s worth the risk to recommend a book outside of their normal reading boundaries. Stepping outside of your reading zone will add variety and depth to your reading life and reward you in many ways.
2) Reviewing high-brow literary fiction and commercial genre fiction have helped me to become a better reader. I have reviewed Louise Erdrich and Marilynne Robinson on one end of the reading spectrum as well Stephen King and Sidney Sheldon on the other end of the spectrum. I have reviewed indie authors like J.F. Penn and Lauren Lynch also. I have learned a lot from reading and reviewing all of these books. The biggest lesson of all is that I have become a reviewer that tries to judge each novel on its own merits and my response to what the author is attempting to drive home in their story. While most readers have preconceived notions about a book or particular genre, I believe that reviewing across the entire literary spectrum has mitigated those initial thoughts or expectations to a particular book. And has helped me cut down on book snobbery, which is still common throughout the literary world.
3) Discovering new authors that have become my favorites and made me a fan for life. I have discovered writers through reviewing that I would have never read on my own. I have received so many recommendations that have led me on a reading path I’m grateful for. I would like to point out two authors who have become my absolute favorites and a fan for life: Athol Dickson and Jonathan Carroll. Dickson and Carroll are on the opposite ends of the literary spectrum, even though both writers would classify as a genre writers. Dickson in Christian Fiction and Carroll in Fantasy, however, both authors are excellent storytellers and masters in their respective genres. I would have never discovered these writers without taking a chance (see point #1) and reading their books.
4) Receiving a lot of books when people find out you are book review blogger. I used to get a lot of ARCs (advance review copies) when I was a bookseller and had access to more books than I could ever read. The same thing happened when I became a book review blogger and learned that most authors (myself included) want their books read (and making a living from their art) more than anything. If that means giving books away to do it…..so be it. If you want to read lots of books without spending a lot of money, then I would recommend that you become a book review blogger and you will have more books then you could possibly read. Also, you may end up getting an unexpected gem like I have with The Retrieval Artist Series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It has become my favorite ongoing series and I had the most fun reviewing those books. (Special thanks to WMG Books Publisher, Allyson Longueira and Kris Rusch for sending me those books. I truly appreciate your generosity.)
5) Reading is very much a part of writer’s life in a linked and symbiotic relationship. I believe reading is the pump and lifeblood to creating more fiction and growing your craft as a writer. I have read comments from quite a few writers (especially in the indie publishing world) claiming they don’t have time to read or have become jaded towards reading. I hope this affliction never affects me. Reading (and reviewing) has been instrumental to my writing (2 novels so far and currently working on Book 3) and I will always make time for it in my life. Reading how other authors craft their stories has been a great experience for me and connecting with other readers about books has enhanced my artistry.
Those are my takeaways from writing 100 book reviews. I’m looking forward to reviewing 100 more and sharing more lessons when I reach book review number 200. See you then!